PORTLAND, Maine — Masa Miyake, the chef and restaurateur who has wowed Portland with his Japanese-inspired cuisine, plans to open his third restaurant in the city in the coming weeks.
Miyake, 50, and his 25-year-old business partner Will Garfield were working this week to prepare the space for inspectors. On Thursday morning, old newspapers covered the windows and there was more painting to do. The wooden bar was in place, though the stools were still missing their seats. If all goes well with inspections, Garfield and Miyake expect their new restaurant will be serving customers by mid August.
The restaurant, which will be named Miyake Diner, will be new, but the space is a familiar one.
With his third restaurant, Miyake is returning to the cozy confines where he operated his first restaurant, Food Factory Miyake, from 2007 to 2011.
The new restaurant will be different than the other two Miyake restaurants — Miyake on Fore Street and Pai Men Miyake on Longfellow Square — in a number of ways, Garfield said.
First, it will be smaller and more intimate than the other locations. There will only by 16 seats — fewer even than the 20-25 seats the original Miyake on Spring Street could fill.
It will also have a very different type of menu. It will be an izakaya-style restaurant, which in Japanese translates to something like a gastro-pub, according to Garfield.
In Japan, izakaya joints are places people go after work to have some drinks — mostly sake — and small plates of food. There won’t be any sushi on the menu, nor gyoza, ramen or pork buns.
Miyake, who once worked in a macrobiotic kitchen in New York City, said the menu will be “small plates, largely vegetable focused.”
“Pai Men is not heavy, but more pork and chicken [focused],” Miyake said. “So, we’ll have more light food and sake. I think healthier. That’s my image.”
Miyake has already worked up a sample menu, which includes small dishes such as braised daikon, sauteed enoki mushrooms, shrimp and wakame seaweed.
Plates will cost less than $12 and there will be a heavy focus on sake, though the new restaurant will serve some beers, Garfield said.
“We may offer some wine in the future, but to start we’re going to try to educate people on sake and beer,” Garfield said.
“Traditionally in Japan if you walk through the streets at 5:30 every izakaya in every neighborhood is going to be full of people eating and drinking,” Garfield said. “That’s what we’re going for, a neighborhood spot that will have a bunch of different attractions for customers to come check out.”
The restaurant will also double-down on Miyake’s efforts to promote a true farm-to-table experience for customers.
Currently, roughly 40 percent of the vegetables and meats served at Pai Men Miyake come from Miyake’s farm in Freeport, while that number is about 25 percent at Miyake’s downtown restaurant. The new place will source as much of the vegetables as possible, along with all the pork, chicken, rabbit and guinea hen that will be on the menu, from the farm.
“The biggest point of the farm is to be able to offer our customers something we’ve bred from start to finish, and that we can tell a story about the product instead of just picking up the phone and calling one of the 3,000 purveyors you can buy a pig from,” Garfield said.
The new restaurant will also be a return for Garfield, who was Miyake’s first employee at the original restaurant in 2007. He entered as a customer on Miyake’s second day of business and asked for a job. Miyake, who was handling the restaurant with a bit of help from his wife, at first said no. But after a week or so, the customers kept coming and Garfield, who was a Bates College student at the time, kept asking until Miyake hired him as a waiter.
Six years later, Garfield is co-owner of the Miyake Restaurant Group. He helped Miyake open Pai Men Miyake in September 2010, and to relocate the original Food Factory Miyake to its current, larger Fore Street location in June 2011. He officially joined Miyake as a partner in the business about two years ago. He now handles the business operations, while Miyake remains executive chef and handles most of the food-related jobs.
The Spring Street space where the new restaurant will be located has not been empty since they relocated the original restaurant in 2011. The kitchen has been operational the whole time, turning out food for Miyake’s burgeoning catering business.
“We love this space. It’s where we started,” Garfield said. “The customers that came here continually helped us grow our business up, so we wanted to have something back in this area that would not be 100 percent like the original, but something that would remind them of the old space.”
Once Miyake Diner is up and running, Garfield said attention will turn to the farm, where they’re beginning to raise rarer breeds of pigs that will show up on future menus. He said a fourth restaurant is not in the cards for now.
“This will definitely be our last spot for Portland that would be under the Miyake umbrella,” Garfield said. “Maybe I shouldn’t say that quite yet, but at least with a Japanese focus. We’ll stop here for now, get everything in order and see what our next step would be.”
When asked whether he ever expected to one day have three restaurants in Portland, Miyake, who moved to Maine from New York City, shook his head.
“No, definitely no,” he said. “I just came to relax.”